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Use of RFID expected to grow for tracking and reducing carbon emissions

05/24/10 | John R. Johnson | email

As more focus is placed on environmental issues following the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, several use cases are developing for RFID to track carbon usage, an ugly byproduct of the U.S.' addiction to fossil fuels. In addition, RFID is actually decreasing carbon emissions in many cases.

RFID is being used to help commercial buildings attain important LEED accreditation from the U.S. Green Buildings Council (USGBC). Home builders rely on RFID-tagged lumber to assure that wood used for flooring and other uses is from sustainable forests. And Wal-Mart sees RFID as a technology that can enable green stores.

But the transportation sector is emerging as the real sweet spot. The technology is credited with reducing carbon emissions by 25-30 percent when applied to idling cars waiting to exit parking lots and garages. The asset tracking market for vehicle fleets also carries excellent potential for monitoring and reducing carbon emissions.

"Over the next couple of years I think you'll see more and more of these green programs emerging around RFID technology," says Andrew Nathanson, director of research operations at VDC Research.

Nathanson expects the transportation and logistics industries to lead in this area.

This week, Denver-based TransCore announced a partnership with Toledo Ticket Co. to develop an RFID-based hang tag for wireless access control at entry and exit points of parking facilities. By using RFID for parking and security access control, vehicles enter and exit parking garages without stopping, improving access and limiting traffic tie-ups. The resulting reduced idling decreases carbon emission output by up to 30 percent.

TransCore has a calculation tool on its website that allows parking lot operators to determine how much carbon emissions they can eliminate by using the technology. For example, a parking garage that moves 1,000 cars a day by using a card insert system to enter and exit a lot would account for 23,980 pounds of CO2. By switching to the TransCore RFID-based system, almost 6,000 pounds of CO2 could be eliminated, equal to burning about 300 gallons of gas. By having the technology up and running at multiple lots nationally that account for 100,000 cars, RFID could eliminate about 30,000 idling hours a day, and eliminate just under 600,00 pounds of CO2, a savings of 600,000 barrels of oil.

"This is pretty interesting stuff," says Nathanson. "With parking garages and parking lots, you are talking about decreasing idling time and faster and more efficient throughput. The result is a reduction in the overall carbon footprint."

Wal-Mart expects to take advantage of the greater supply chain visibility provided by RFID to green its entire business, from sourcing to the store floor.

"Because RFID enables more visibility in the supply chain, you know where items are and where the bottlenecks or inefficiencies are," says Tim Newsom, sales and marketing director, tags and labels, for NXP. "Once you remove those, you can get more product on the truck and use the fuel for getting that product to the consumer more efficiently and reduce carbon emissions. Wal-Mart understands that having better visibility in their supply chain allows them to be more efficient in supplying goods to the consumer, which reduces carbon emissions and the amount of waste."

Office building complexes are using RFID-enabled parking lots to gain points as they pursue LEED green credits. The Molasky Corporate Center is the largest privately owned environmentally friendly building in Las Vegas, with Gold certification by the USGBC.

The building's commitment to the environment includes the use of 150 rooftop solar panels to generate a portion of the building's electricity, implementing recycling programs and minimizing water use. In addition, the office facility recently upgraded its parking lot to include the use of TagMaster's Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) system. Sentry Control Systems installed the LEED-compatible parking system for the six-level, 1,450-space parking garage with TagMaster Readers to help reduce total carbon emissions.

The use of RFID is expected to grow dramatically when it comes to tracking carbon footprints in the supply chain as well, especially for items like apparel and electronics that are manufactured overseas and have elongated supply chains. This week NXP Semiconductors joined the European Supply Chain Institute’s Supply Chain Carbon Council, which has initiated a multi-year program promoting the application of RFID and NFC to accurately track emissions through the supply chain at the product level. The program will also highlight the application of supporting data management technologies.

Chris Feige, general manager of tagging and authentication at NXP, says that tagging printed circuit boards, for example, would enable businesses and consumers to clearly determine the environmental footprint of consumer electronic products. "Based on our advanced RFID and NFC IC solutions, we can provide substantial system know-how to further improve the visibility of product emissions in the supply chain on a global level," he says.

Nathanson also expects heavy machinery manufacturers like Caterpillar to benefit from RFID by using the technology to monitor the overall performance of their engines and equipment in a closed loop system. By improving its visibility into the maintenance of the huge tractors that are traditionally big pollution contributors, Caterpillar can improve its overall environmental platform.

"If you are able to track that equipment and you can assure that your maintenance records are updated and that they link to the overall carbon output, the company can send a strong message to the consumer that they are environmentally sensitive," says Nathanson. "It's an add-on benefit from all the cost savings they get from the operational side of things."

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